Buy one tool and throw the others away

David McCann
October 29, 2018
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Picture this: you need to measure out a cup of milk and all you have is a dry measuring cup. The horror! Yep, we’ve all been there. But I have an earth-shattering secret to share with you. Are you sitting down? A cup is a cup is a cup is a cup.

We’ve come to believe in the notion that we can only measure dry ingredients like flour, sugar, and cocoa powder in dry measuring cups (the set of scoops marked ¼, ⅓, ½, etc.,) and wet ingredients like milk, oil, and water in liquid measuring cups (the devices that look like pitchers with little spouts and handles.) As someone working in a professional test kitchen, things like this drive me crazy. We accept them because, well, just because. It’s ridiculous. I realize that English is a very imprecise language, but come on, how could a cup not be a cup? I decided to set about busting this particular myth.

I filled a liquid measuring cup with milk, then poured the milk into a dry measuring cup. Lo and behold, the liquid fit perfectly. I then filled a dry measuring cup with flour, then dumped it into a liquid measuring cup. Measurement redux. OK, I didn’t exactly use the scientific method, but the facts are clear: the measurements were near identical.

Now, it’s true the little spouts make pouring liquid easier, and well-designed dry measuring cups—the kind with no little ridge between the cup and the handle—make it easier to overfill the cup and swipe off the excess to properly level your ingredients. But when it comes to the simple desire of wanting to measure something, you really can use either vessel.

I’m a great proponent of an uncluttered kitchen, so one less set of things is exciting. But I will admit that while measuring liquid in a dry measuring cup is a cinch, measuring dry ingredients in a liquid measuring cup does have its challenges with regard to leveling.

I say let’s go wild and change up this whole conundrum. There is only one perfect, surefire no-fail way to measure. And that is by weighing ingredients using a kitchen scale. For example, if you pack flour into a dry measuring cup like brown sugar, you’ll use much more than if you spoon the flour into the cup and then properly level off the top. Weighing, however, is another ball game. 1 cup of flour is equivalent to 120 grams, and the scale will tell you when you’ve hit that number. Same goes for liquids. You can refer to this chart for more equivalents.

Of course, if you won’t give up your sets of measuring cups and the idea of weighing things causes an existential crisis, I’ll say this: as long as you're consistent, most ways of measuring, while not exact, will be fine. Not perfect, but fine. Until Americans accept what the rest of the world already knows—that measuring by weight is best—and give up our Luddite attachment to an antiquated way of measuring, we can at least sleep at night secure in the knowledge that, wet or dry, our recipes will survive.

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